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Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006, 16:40 GMT
Faces of the week
Faces of the Week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are Polly Toynbee (main picture), with ALEXANDER LITVINENKO, KEISHA CASTLE-HUGHES, BARBARA BUSH and PETER JACKSON.


As an opinionated journalist on a broadsheet newspaper, Polly Toynbee is given licence to sound off on any social or cultural issue she fancies.

Whether it be veil-wearing Muslim women, binge-drinking teenagers, university top-up fees or Gordon Brown's tax and spend policies, Polly Toynbee not only has a view but is also paid to publicise it.

Her left-of-centre leanings have made her the doyenne of British social democrats, and she recently topped a poll of 100 opinion makers carried out by the journal Editorial Intelligence.

People who dish out opinions in the way she does can expect to take flak from those on the other side of the political spectrum. And Polly Toynbee has had more than her fair share of that.

She is dismissed by journalist Peter Hitchens as being from the "liberal elite", and The Sun's Richard Littlejohn has described her as the "Guardian's resident madwoman".

Conservative MP and journalist, Boris Johnson, wrote this week that Polly Toynbee, "incarnates all the nannying, high-taxing, high-spending schoolmarminess of Blair's Britain. Polly is the high priestess of our paranoid, mollycoddled, risk-averse, airbagged, booster-seated culture of political correctness and 'elf 'n' safety fascism".

Toynbee with fellow journalists Mary Kenny and the late Nick Clarke
Toynbee with fellow journalists Mary Kenny and the late Nick Clarke
Polly Toynbee has long been a Labour Party supporter apart from a period in the 1980s when she and her husband, the late Peter Jenkins, supported the SDP breakaway party.

She returned to the Labour fold once it had moved back to the centre.

Aware that issues like Iraq have disillusioned so many Labour voters, particularly women, she nevertheless believes that New Labour's social reforms have made it "the best government in my lifetime".

It must have been with some pride and not a little amusement, then, that one of Tory leader David Cameron's key advisers, Greg Clark, has proposed that Conservatives should look to Polly Toynbee rather than Sir Winston Churchill for inspiration for new ideas regarding the welfare state.

"Polly Toynbee supplies imagery that is more appropriate for Conservative social policy in the 21st century," says Clark.

The Conservatives are engaged in a battle with New Labour for the middle-ground in British politics and their attitude towards poverty in particular is currently engaging them.

In 2003, Polly Toynbee, together with journalist David Walker, who is also her partner, published a book entitled Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britain for which she spent some time working at menial jobs that paid the minimum wage.


She was heavily critical of the conditions of the poorly paid, and Greg Clark believes her views are more advanced that those of Churchill whose "safety net is at the bottom: holding people at subsistence level, just above the abyss of hunger and homelessness".

Polly Toynbee herself is braying. "As a lifelong campaigner against all the social damage done by the Tories down the years, it would be churlish not to rejoice if they are now using leaves out of my book instead of Winston Churchill's.

The right-wing backlash, though, soon began. A Daily Mail commentary castigated Greg Clark as being self-promoting. It read "Much good it will do if voters conclude he's an idiot, albeit one in possession of a PhD."

Boris Johnson has turned his guns on Ms Toynbee in The Daily Telegraph, branding her an arch-hypocrite. Referring to her criticism of fee-paying and selective education for example, he points out that "she sent her own offspring to one of the most expensive and competitive public schools in the country".

Polly Toynbee on the telephone
Polly Toynbee has a ferocious appetite for research
Polly Toynbee's heritage is a distinguished one. Her father was the literary critic Philip Toynbee, her grandfather the historian Arnold J. Toynbee while on her mother's side, she is a descendant of the 9th Earl of Carlisle.

Polly Toynbee worked as social affairs editor for the Guardian for seven years, before taking up the same position with BBC Television News in 1995.

Eventually, the constraints of having to be impartial and having to limit her output to two-minute bite-sized TV chunks, proved too much and she returned to her more natural home at the newspaper desk, first to the Independent and then back to the Guardian.

Her editor at the Indie was Andrew Marr, a firm Toynbee admirer.

"What makes her stand out as a journalist is not only her strong views," he says, "but also her ferocious appetite for research. In a media world in which too many media columnists simply voice their top-of-the-head opinions, Polly always arrives heavily armed with hard facts."

But for Polly Toynbee to replace Sir Winston Churchill as a Tory ideologue would be one hard fact too far for many Conservatives.

Alexander Litvinenko

The former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, widely believed to have been poisoned, died this week in a London hospital. His friends have accused the Russian Security Service, the FSB, of being responsible. Litvinenko had been a fierce critic of President Putin and had accused the FSB of causing a series of Moscow apartment block explosions in 1999 that helped Putin gain power by falsely blaming it on Chechens. The Kremlin has denied any involvement in Litvinenko's death.

Keisha Castle-Hughes

The actress Keisha Castle-Hughes, famous for her role in Whale Rider and who plays Mary, mother of God, in her latest film, The Nativity Story, has caused some embarrassment in the Vatican. The film tells how she became unexpectedly pregnant with Jesus; now it has been announced that Ms Castle-Hughes, who is 16 and unmarried, is herself with child. A Vatican spokesman says Pope Benedict has no plans to attend when the film is premiered at the Vatican.

Barbara Bush

Questions are being asked about the protection given to President Bush and his family by the American Secret Service. Agents were left red faced earlier this week when Barbara Bush, the President's 24-year-old daughter, had her bag and mobile phone stolen while eating in a restaurant in Buenos Aires. It doesn't rank alongside the assassination of President Kennedy 43 years ago - but some commentators want to know whether her father's private number was on the phone.

Peter Jackson

The Lord of the Rings film director Peter Jackson, has been told he will not be directing the big-screen version of The Hobbit, the much-loved prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The makers, New Line Cinema, have a limited time option on the film rights and are currently in a long-running dispute with Jackson over money he says he's owed from the first of the trilogy's films, Fellowship of the Ring.

Written by BBC News Profiles Unit's Bob Chaundy

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